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International Socialist Review, Summer 1958


Lois Saunders

Rise of the Africans


From International Socialist Review, Vol.19 No.3, Summer 1958, pp.110-111.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Nationalism in Colonial Africa
by Thomas Hodgkin
New York University Press, New York. 1957. 190 pp. $3.75.

The efforts of the African people to rid themselves of European rule have achieved so much success and attained such momentum in the past two decades that they can no longer be stemmed. This is the thesis of the author of this brief but scholarly analysis of the complex nationalist movements in colonial Africa south of the Sahara, excluding the Union of South Africa.

These various movements, developing along diverse paths and at differing tempos, were given a long push forward by World War II. They have now reached the stage where they signal the beginning of the end of European ascendancy in Africa. The “colonial problem,” says Thomas Hodgkin, has ceased to be one of international rivalry over possession of colonies or of concern over administrative methods. Instead it has become a question of “what adjustments, compromises and surrenders” the European colonial powers – and their settlers – must make “in the face of the claims of African nationalism.”

The reasons for the transformation of the political situation in Africa, the author sees as:

  1. democratic anti-Fascist (and therefore by implication anti-imperialist) propaganda of the United Nations;
  2. weakening of European imperial authority in Asia;
  3. the experience of African servicemen during the war;
  4. the stimulus to nationalism that resulted from economic hardships, restrictions and rising prices; and
  5. improvement in the means of transportation.

The greater part of the book deals with an examination of the various agencies through which the developing nationalism finds expression, ranging from the rapidly proliferating church groups to the more advanced and articulate political parties.

The new “young men’s towns,” such as Dakar, Lagos and Leopoldville, have provided the setting and created the conditions that have brought about a great upheaval in the lives of the new generation. The towns have grown at a spectacular rate. Dakar in 1910 had 24,914 inhabitants; in 1955 it numbered approximately 300,000. Lagos in the same period jumped from 74,000 to 270,000; and Leopoldville in the 20 years from 1935 to 1955 grew from a small town of 26,622 to a teeming city of 340,000.

The move to the town has wrenched the young African loose from tribal customs and traditions and deposited him, unprepared, in a strange, new environment in these “great amorphous, squalid, urban agglomerations ... vast areas of slum houses, huts and shacks, hurriedly thrown together out of planks, corrugated iron, petrol tins, sacking, anything.”

Cut off from the communal life of the tribe, he is now “on his own,” in the African section of the city, sharply set apart from the European section. He finds acute overcrowding, high rents, disease and unemployment, and a social life “unlike any life that has existed in Africa hitherto, deriving its special qualities, first, from the emphasis upon money and consumption; second, from the search for liberty; and third, from the influence of the European world and its values.”

In these towns, says the author, the “correlation between being black and being poor, being white and being rich, is sufficiently close to stimulate ... a spirit of African radicalism, which tends to identify the claim of the poor against the rich with the claims of the black against the white.”

Here, too, the young Africans “come to think of their problems as social rather than part of the natural order,” and in their search for a place to live, a job and friends, they are directed towards new skills, new associations and new goals. The groups which attract them and which replace the link of kinship are of three types: religious, trade union and political.

The author discusses each of these types of organizations, stressing their relation to the growth of nationalist and Pan-African movements and to the emergence of a new African ideology to replace the white man’s myth of African barbarism and’ backwardness with the “counter-myth of African civilization and achievement.”

The analysis presented gives a singularly clear picture of complicated, little known and seldom understood developments. But, because of the book’s brevity, its tendency towards generalization and the author’s remoteness from the unfolding struggle, the reader finds it difficult to pass judgment on its emphasis and conclusions. It should be pointed out, however, that the author is fully aware of the book’s limitations. He makes this clear in his introduction where he states: “My chief concern is to present, in a small compass, the results of other men’s work, to indicate the boundary between what is known and what is unknown, to suggest connections and comparisons and to raise questions which further investigation might help to answer.”

This aim the author certainly has accomplished, and in so doing he has shed much light upon the efforts of the African people to become the masters of their own destiny.

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